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GoPro Hero Editorial Review

Submitted by j_ung on 2008-05-09 | Last Modified on 2008-05-11

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If there's one thing more frustrating than buying something only to have it not work as promised, it's when you can't even get customer service to respond to you. Why, this very night, I came a breath-holding ten-count away from going all Michael Bolton on my printer/scanner/fax.

So, it is with some degree of happiness that I relate to you that my customer-service experience with a little company called GoPro, which makes an even littler video and still camera called the Digital Hero, was a rip-roaring success. They jumped on every issue I had and put a new camera in my hands toot sweet.

Wait, wait, wait… I think I may have gotten ahead of myself. Let me back up a second and say that my first Hero was a failure of epic proportions. It liked to turn off spontaneously mid-shot, the sound was either inaudible or blown out depending on the setting, the still photo quality was mediocre at best and, to top it all off, the final time I took it out, it corrupted 19 of 23 files! The first draft of this review was merciless. I ripped that camera three new holes, and none of them were "in holes." The metaphors contained therein were proportional to the frustration I felt at losing shots over and over and over again. Then, I and the GoPro folks spoke and they convinced me I had a lemon on my hands. They sent me a new Digital Hero, which is far less temperamental than the old one.

Voila. You're back up to speed.

That's not say I'm in love with my little camera. I kind of like it, but GoPro has some work to do before I can rave about it and tell you to go buy one before they sell out.

I'll begin with its best points. One, it's compact. In today's world of smaller and smaller electronics, this may not seem like much, but helmet cams are a bit different. With most, you need a camera (which mounts on the helmet), a recording unit (typically a regular digicam, which you carry in a pocket or a pack), and a mic to record sound. Not so the Hero. The whole package is all contained in a sealed plastic case that's smaller than a pack of smokes and only slightly heavier. Two, the Helmet version of the Hero comes with a variety of attachments so you can mount it to your lid and to random gear, like a kayak or snowboard. I tried out a few mounting options and they all worked great, especially the headlamp-esque elastic band, which enables you to wear it, even if you don't have a helmet. Three, the Hero is certainly quite waterproof. Take good care of the case - keep it closed at all times except when removing and installing the camera - and it will treat you well.

Now for the not so best…

The Digital Hero's biggest liability is its lack of a view screen. That might not, in and of itself, pose a huge problem, except that the Hero, when mounted on a helmet, is very difficult to aim. This may be a problem all helmet cams share, but at least with larger traditional units you get a view screen to check your composition before shooting and to double check afterward. With the Helmet Hero, however, you can't tell if you got the shot you wanted until you get it back to a computer and upload the files, and by then it's too late. By the end of my first Hero's miserable life, I completely disregarded helmet mounting and took to holding it in my hands while looking through the tiny viewfinder - which negated its utility as a hands-free device.

GoPro, however, is addressing this issue as we speak. Next generation Heroes will likely have both a view screen to end the did-I-get-the-shot mystery game, and a slightly wide-angle lens, which will probably solve the aiming issue, altogether.

Another issue I had with the Hero was that, when surrounded by noisy action, it's impossible to hear the camera's audio alerts that, yes, you turned it on and, yes, it's rolling. Even with my second - much less bitchy - Hero, I missed a few shots because - not for lack of trying - I never actually turned it on! I soon learned my lesson and began removing my helmet for a visual check at the start of each shot. (A funny aside is that I now have a whole library of shots of my confused mug peering into the viewfinder looking for the telltale blinking red light.) And later, I also took to using the sticky mounts GoPro provided to put the camera directly on some of my gear, such as a riverboard. This gave an easier way to make sure it was rolling. (At first, I was skeptical about the sticky mounts. But when I finally used one and watched my little Hero take 10-foot standing waves to the lens again and again, it was hard not to appreciate GoPro's foresight in including them in the Helmet Hero package.)

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The shots of a lifetime and all I had was a three-megapixel camera.

I was a bit disappointed with the Hero's still-photo capability. At three - THREE - lousy megapixels, it sees about as well as a myopic fruit bat. On several occasions I found myself wishing I'd brought a better camera with me. And again, the lack of a view screen is a major annoyance. I missed shots by just a bit that I might have gotten better had I something to look at before walking away from the action. GoPro also plans to add megapixels in the near future, which will be a huge improvement.

My final beef is that the Hero doesn't come with an SD card. I think I'd be happier if GoPro upped the price a bit to include one.

All in all though, I do feel like I've taken some decent video with my Helmet Hero. And since we're still sort of on the subject of price… at $170 for a video camera, a still camera, and all the helmet mounts, it's hard for me to tell you to stay away at all costs. On the contrary, if you consider yourself a videographer of any level, I think the Hero makes an outstanding second video camera for cutaways, and I can't wait to try it out SCUBA diving in the Virgin Islands this summer. A word of advice, though: if you pick one up, use only Energizer Lithium batteries with it. You'll be talking to customer service, if you don't.

I shot all of these clips with the camera mounted on either my gear or my head - none of it's handheld. You'll see some great footage of a flight in a friend's ultralight, some class-V mayhem from my riverboard on the New River at flood stages and, of course, a little climbing thrown in for good measure.

Full disclosure: The company that makes this product provided it free of charge to, which then provided it to the reviewer as compensation for the review.


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13 Comments CommentAdd a Comment

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That thing is a low quality piece of shit.
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i think it depends on what you want out of it. its $170, and to be honest, i dont think you can get much better than that without spending significantly more dough. if all you're looking for is some memories of some fun times...i think its a great option. if you want some great shots with great resolution, then obviously you need to consider using something more expensive.
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riverboarding looks sick!
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Aye, riverboarding's pretty freaking hilarious, Matt. I'll take you sometime, if you want. Time2clmb, that's exactly what I thought when I had my first one, only I wasn't half as charitable as you are. Now I think it's a good idea that has potential, but which also has a little way to go to reach it. One point I touched only briefly on in the review that I want to pay more time to is the the user's battery choice. You really only have one: Use Energizer Lithium batteries (NOT the rechargeable kind) or own a malfunctioning, temperamental chunk of plastic. If you weren't using those, it's no wonder you hate it. And, if you were using those, I suggest you get in touch with the GoPro folks. They really do seem interested in having happy customers.
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I wanna go riverboardin too.....looks badass....ultralight looks fun too, I just found out my grandfather-in-law has one sitting in his garage so hopefully I'll be flyin this summer. The camera doesn't look awesome, but it is definately good enough for home movies/goofin off......good review j_ung.
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Thanks, thanks... One other thing (home movies reminded me), don't use it in low light situations. This little thing definitely works best in bright conditions.
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kewl vid - thanks for the smile on my face this afternoon. ;)
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So I have this camera and Im super happy with it, you just gotta approach it for what it's worth.

#1 owning this camera means you never have an excuse not to take some photos while climbing. I can always fit this somewhere and get 3 megapixel pictures which is definitely enough for sharing, printing, and remembering bad ass routes on sick rock in nice locations

#2 sometimes the picture quality blows so much. sometimes the shutter and exposure or whatever these technical terms are that I don't care about don't happen right. but they are 3 megapixel pictures, which is a couple hundred kb or something. So always take 3 or 4. This camera is about shooting from the hip, not about getting wonderful portraits to put up on the mantel (but it happens sometimes, I have the sickest pictures of me high up on a ridge in WAdi Rum!)

#3 having a video camera around is sweet, but it sucks

#4 the hard case fucking blows, I've taken mine back to LL Bean twice because of their guarantee nd the thing breaking. It broke a third time and I gave up. Problem: the buttons on the case would come off then it's useless

#5 the software blows. sometimes the function button doesn't work, all the time you ahve to take the batteries out to turn it off. But you can always get it to work eventually, you just gotta smile and laugh and be like "wtf you fucking piece of shit work already" and it will happen, in sha' allah. I've never had it jsut not function

overall I totally love mine. Now every trip I got on everywhere I have an album from because I can always keep this thing in some tiny pocket. The only problem that presents is tha tI'm always thinking I lost it..... "fuck where is that thing?! I definitely lost it for good this time....." I've said that so many times. But that's the beauty of it, so tiny, yet it takes bad ass pictures.

So basically it's like all of life, for what it's worth its totally great: a micro camera that will get you quality shots. But it cannot be totally badass nd totally micro. No flash, shitty quality photos happen quite often, view finder is so tiny it might as well nto have one. But I think it makes a stellar shoot-from-the-hip camera. Grant it, you could spend more money and get something nicer and onyl a little bigger, but then when it gets crushed/lost/dropped/et cetera you're going to be that many more dollars in the hole.

I recommend it if you want something for the type of application I just described.

If you want to see like climbing photos of Yosemite, the Gunks, Wadi Rum (Jordan, sandstone, totally sick), all taken with this camera, then you should see these albums I have hosted on the internet:

Wadi Rum - [url][/url]
Gunks - [url][/url]
The Valley - [url][/url]
More Valley [url][/url]
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i love the riverboarding and the microlighting, but looking at your ballsac while your climbing??? im not so sure i enjoyed that!
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Next time I see your wife, I'm going to tell her you're fixated on my crotch. ;)
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On the SD card thing: I would ALWAYS prefer camera manufacturers NOT include one and charge a few bucks less rather than include one that is so tiny as to be useless. So many companies include an 8 or 16MB card or something. WTF am I going to do with that?
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Good point, pug. I think an extra $20 for a gig-sized card would be nice.
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According to vegastradguy's Summer-OR-Show blog, the newest version of the Hero has the wide-angle lens and megapixels. Good job GoPro!

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